Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Intro to Chris Burden

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Chris Burden, and artist of intrigue and confusion, was born in Massachusetts, in 1946. He studied Visual Arts, Physics and Architecture at Yale and the University of California from 1969-1971.
Many are accustom to hearing the name Chris Burden, and associating him with his work in 1971 called “Shoot.” This performance was held after hours at a gallery in California; the audience was by invitation only. Information regarding this performance spread by word of mouth. The performance consisted of Chris Burden Standing against the far wall of the gallery. Fifteen feet away stood his friend, with a twenty two caliber long rifle. The objective was simple: Chris Burden was to be grazed by the bullet shot from this gun. However, Burden was more than grazed; the copper head bullet penetrated his left arm. What was the message? Some say Burden was speaking out against the Vietnam War; others have commented that Burden was interested in shock factor elements regarding violence. Neither of these ideas are close to what Burden was hoping to achieve. Burden was interested in achieving a higher form of knowledge that goes beyond basic comprehension that humanity has come to depend on. We no longer look/view and comprehend, or gain intelligence. We hear, or read and gain our primary knowledge this way. We are more comfortable emailing then speaking to each other. Visual information can be daunting. There is an un easiness to the ephemeral quality of the visual.
Burden is quoted stating:
“How do you know what it is like to be shot, if you don’t get shot?”
Burden’ statement is clear; Burden is interested in achieving a level of knowledge that is not possible through learning as we know it. You can read a book on being shot, and gain on some intellectual level regarding being shot. However, According to Burden, to truly comprehend, you must go through it yourself. It was also important to Burden that there be no relic of the work, besides the photographs taken there. This photo does not capture the event for the viewer and allow them to re-live it; it is evidence that “Shoot” happened. The photography that is available for us to view, does not serve any functionality to anyone who views it. The objective of the artist was met in 1971. the Scare that Burden has is the only viable relic of this performance, and this too, belongs to Burden, and Burden alone. The knowledge that was acquired by Burden was experienced, not explained.
Evidence of this can be found in his 1974 performance called “Doomed” performed in the Chicago Museum of Art. Very little has been found regarding this work; what is know is Burden walked into the gallery space at midnight, set a clock on the wall, and laid underneath a piece of glass. The Glass ran the length of his entire body. Burden laid there for forty five hours and ten minutes underneath this sheet of glass. He defecated, urinated and whatever other bodily functions where necessary. People would walk by and observe Burden in this state. He was observed, but not interacted with. This was the case until a museum worker placed a pitcher of water with in the grasp of Burden. Burden Proceeded to get up, take a hammer and smash the clock, then leave. Next to no information (other than random art enthusiast’s blog sites) can be found on this performance. The clock and the hammer where taken by Burden. When Burden is asked about his performances, he lacks in giving a thorough answer, this is not an accident.
Burden does not wish to have anyone debunk his work; he has provided the source of knowledge for himself and himself alone. According to his statement regarding “Shoot” for someone to achieve knowledge through the experience, then he would have to shoot everyone who was a witness in the gallery. This is not what happened, it is evident Burden was not seeking to “over explain” or reason his actions. The fact he did not explain his action to anyone upon questioning his motives, is further proof.
Burden begins to move into the realm of visual knowledge in his later works. (By using the term visual knowledge I am referring to a different way of comprehending or understanding. Instead of reading numbers, or text, you are forced to see it, and comprehend the information visually.)
Burden’s work at the Dallas museum of Art “All the Submarines of the USA” from 1987 consists of six hundred twenty five cardboard models of submarines hanging by vinyl thread. This work depicts the entirety of the United states navy from the 1890’s till 1987. Burden’s other work “Match Stick Tanks” depicts fifty thousand tanks the Soviet Union owned in 1971. Each tank is meticulously formed from one match stick, then glued on to a nickel (there was no specifications found that stated if a specific side of the coin was used.)
The nickel was then glued to the floor, this was done fifty thousand times. Burden states during an interview that he is fascinated by the idea of visual knowledge. He goes on to comment on the number (in Arabic form): 50,000; “what does it mean to take away or add a few zero’s?”
Does it really impact the way in which we comprehend the number? Burden’s answer is no. Burden’s objective was to communicate visual information, by doing this he brings the audience into the conversation, allowing them to have the knowledge gained from his work, this approach differs from his work “Shoot.” “Shoot” implicates the audience because they were in the room, and did nothing to the stop the shooting. However, this did not convey to the audience the experience of being shot. “Matchstick Tanks” has taken the approach of knowledge, but transcended the knowledge into a visual perspective, which has allowed it to exist in tangible form. Therefore, the information is no longer theoretical, or belonging only to Burden.
Chris Burden began his career with the goal of achieving a higher form of knowledge. A knowledge that he could receive only through the experience of the act himself. He moved from working only with his body, and himself being the sole receptor of knowledge, to creating a visual knowledge that was not ephemeral, but ascertainable. An ascertainable intelligence that was no longer conjectural.


Umberto Boccioni’s Series: “State of Mind”

In Art Historical Papers, Uncategorized on November 18, 2009 at 9:38 pm



The Farewells were painted by Umberto Boccioni in 1911 using oil on canvas.  The subject is a train station with passengers boarding two train cars.   Boccioni has not painted this work in a naturalist fashion.   It is evident Boccioni was not attempting to communicate to his audience simply the image of a train station; rather his agenda was to invoke the sense of motion, not only temporally, but sociologically.  (That is to say Boccioni conveys the innovation of the train as a method of public transport as well as a method for molding social behavior.)  This attempt is successful due to his use of geometric shapes which are in juxtaposition with the implication of a train station, and smoke. The majority of the composition appears to be smoke, immersing the train.  Through the smoke there are emerging figures.  These figures are comprised of cylinder and triangular shapes.  Each angle is shaded and penetrates the smoke that looms. The figures are green, and at first glance could be seen as smoke flowing out of the train.

 The geometric shapes give the viewer sense of firmness.  That is to say they provide a sensation of a stable foundation in which the train station rests upon; it is important to note, that these senses are implied.  The viewer is not allowed to see the platform, or any other indication of stability with in the station.    As the viewer concludes they are figures, the conversation of perpetual motion ensues.   This collection of rudimentary geometric shapes are frozen in a complex state of motion.  These figures evoke a sense of the reminiscent; people swarming and herding like cattle to board a elephantine piece of machinery that will hurdle their physical being to their chosen destination.   This concept, this capability, has shaped society in away that now allows the masses to travel together, to go places that until this point, they were not capable of visiting as easily.   Boccioni has allowed the viewer to experience this same novel excitement through his vision.   Every brush stroke is visible; the indentations in the paint make it apparent that a large amount of force was utilized to construct this work.   With this evidence, one can state that the artist possibly  felt strongly about the subject.  With each application of paint, the swirls of colored smoke and thrashing veins of pigment force feeds the viewer the implication of movement.   The agitation in the work is so apparent; Boccioni has left the viewer no choice but to be confronted by it.

  The only elements that are stationary are the numbers of the train (6943) and what appears to be an oil tower. This tower is located in the top left corner.  The tower itself is not in motion, yet our view of it is.  It is being left in the background, on the cusp of fading into the distance.  Yet, the tower itself acts a symbol of this growing society, a reminder of commerce.

The signal lights are floating within the foreground.  This allows the viewer to confirm the identity of the train station, yet does not allow us to see any familiar elements of the station.  We are left with what the artist has been inclined to show us, which is not always what we can recognize.

     Boccioni has enabled the viewer to peer into a time of great change.  He has enabled us to “retinally”  experience sociological metamorphosis.  Boccioni handed the audience a glimpse of economic and social change during the time of machinery and advanced travel.  The world became smaller, and society advanced.  The Farewells construction allows the audience to bare witness to the intensity of such changes.

Boccioni states in the book  written in 1913 called Pittura Scultura Futuriste:

  “Reality is not to be found in the object, but in the transfiguration of the object as it becomes identified with the subject. “[1]  


In other words, as the viewer looks at the train, the resemblance of what is believed to be real does not occur until the viewer can  relate the image with a feeling, name or  other subject that then allows the subject to then be identified. 

In Petrie’s article Boccioni and Bergson he describes the transformation of art as:


 “ A record of his emotions as they were provoked by life, whether as event or as sensation.”

Petrie’s statement is further evidence Boccioni created The “Fairwells” with the agenda of provoking his viewers with the ephemeral knowledge of the dynamism spawned by his observations and reactions  the growing methods of travel.  

In the second piece of this series: “Those who Go”, Boccioni furthers his concept of motion in relation to society.  This work depicts human faces from several vantage points. The sense of motion is no longer only temporal, but social.  The viewer is now conflicted with the notion of the people who have boarded the train, and the confusion they must have endured as they traveled. Their bodies have penetrated the seats of the train, creating an illusion of human heads being transported in a temporal hole or flux. One state of nature was no longer possible in the social order that Boccioni was a part of.

This is further explained visually in the third and final piece of this series “Those who Stay”  Here Boccioni has created predominate vertical lines that covey the feeling or sensation of being left behind. He has shown the viewer the heaviness of being the one who stays behind.  Life was no longer sure or simple.  It was now comprised of heterogeneous elements that were not tangible.

Boccioni has successfully conveyed the elements of social change due to machinery and travel in a form of visual information.  This visual information has the ability to convey sensations and emotions through this series that would not be successfully done in the written word. You can not open a book and read of progress and social revolution during this time, and be confronted by  sense of motion of the same dynamism as will this work. Boccioni has created a series of visual data that allows the viewer the opportunity (if they choose to take it) to experience for a moment, the speeding forward of time, the concept of time and motion and how the relation of two would continue to exist in a state of flux.


[1] Translated by author of the article Boccioni and Bergson, Brian Petrie